Images, Records, Memories, Thoughts

The Investigation: The Sunday Ritual

For as long as I remember, and even if I didn't, there are plenty of photographs of the family dressed up on Sundays, and whether we went to church or not, we would go to one of numerous massive outdoor restaurants and indulge in typical Lebanese fare starting with an incredible Mezze of literally dozens of appetizer plates until one couldn't breathe anymore, and then, yes then, the family patriarch would order if not one, two or three main courses that usually came in copious portions, to be followed by fresh fruit and then dessert. All of this quenched by Arak, the national Lebanese alcoholic beverage that is clear in the bottle but turns milky when mixed with water.

Of course, as a child and weather permitting, we did this weekly with Ammo Robert and Tante Loulou, driving in his then brand new Vauxhall to either of two of the most famous such restaurants in Lebanon, the Berdawni in Zahle, or Fawar Antelias.  That was in the 1960's. In the 1990's Loulou and Robert had a new favorite haunt, Nahr, in Baqaata.

#36 - I had already established that roll 36 was from 1991, with the combed back hair style. This is another self-portrait with the Olympus XA on a self timer, most likely sitting on top of a "Breeq", or a typical lebanese drinking carafe (see below). The polo shirt that Robert is wearing will serve to identify roll #34 at this same location, Nahr Restaurant in Baqaata.


#34 - Robert showing with pride how beautiful a local beefsteak tomato can be. Here with the same Laurel Leaves logo on his polo shirt as in roll 36.  A Breeq clearly visible on the left. 1991

#44 was clearly established in 1992 with the photo of Walid's soiled fingers in the elevator. On the same roll, Robert holds once again a pride of a beefsteak tomato, and the neck of the compulsory Arak bottle. 


#45 - Cherries and Watermelon for dessert. 1992

#44 - The platter of watermelon polished off, Robert slips into a post-feast nap. Loulou gives a mixed look of sympathy, amusement, and/or embarrassment. 1992.


#45 - Breeqs

#36 - A waiter demonstrating the proper way to drink out of a breeq. 

 

As much as I love Lebanon and have fond memories of the country, of the people, and of the beautiful nature, I am often reluctant to say that I am Lebanese, for various reasons. I envision a world without borders and therefore without countries, although I am not so naive to believe that borders alone create conflict, as was the case within Lebanon for 15 years. Current tensions are escalating.

 

I also think it takes more than just being born somewhere to be of that nationality. After 43 years of having left the country, I can still speak and read arabic, at least enough to have found clues in the calendars and in the banners, but yet it would be impossible for me to post this text in my native language.

 

I am not, nor have I ever been able to drink water out of a breeq and in fact, since 1991, I am terrified to drink Lebanese water as I am very susceptible to the bacteria that real Lebanese people have no problems with. Perhaps if I had stayed in Lebanon I would be able to drink Lebanese water from a breeq, but then again...


#35 - Although there is at least one more precise clue on roll 35, such as the logo on Robert's shirt, I am going to use this one, as the spiny rear-view mirror pendant may prove to be helpful in identifying another roll. After Robert would slide into a cat nap even at the lunch table, after all the food and Arak, he would then drive home on often challenging mountain roads, with just as often, Loulou yelling at him about something or another as I sat in the back seat, in the 60's as well as in the 90's.

#35 - Going to Ashqout from Baqaata. Not sure what village this is, but one can clearly see the destruction, even in the remote villages of Mount Lebanon. 

 

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#36 - Robert napping after one such huge meal in Ashqout as they were dropping me off to stay at my cousin Georges' for a night. Here Georges' sisters-in-law in a not untypical animated Lebanese discussion. 1991.

#48 - One more of Robert in Ashqout but from another roll evidently shot with the Contax T2 with flash, as opposed to the one from #36 on the left shot with the Nikon F5. Also here, Rania, Georges' daughter, and the sister of Jamil and Karim serving a beverage to one of the guests.


In the 1960's these types of restaurants had on their staff at least one or two photographers who walked around and took pictures of the families at their tables. The prints would be ready by the time the meal was over, which was often two to three hours later if not longer. There are numerous such prints in my archive.

Loulou and Robert at the Birdawni in Zahle, early 1960's.

circa 1962 - Robert, Loulou, me and my sister Lucette also at Birdawni.

On the back of the print on the left, Ammo Robert's note stating that: This time also in Zahle, and something to the effect that Dear Lucien standing near saying that with the will of God, you'll all be with us next time. Perhaps a never mailed note to my parents in Saudi Arabia. 


That morning in 1991, we had indeed gone to church (here in the parking lot), Ammo Robert in his laurel leaves polo shirt, and Tante Loulou in her psychedelic dress and designer frame glasses.    Slide Roll LEB-12, frame 35. 

 

Rest in Peace Loulou and Robert.